Kimchi – My Fermenting Nemesis

I’m struggling to get a good batch of Kimchi. If you don’t know what Kimchi is but you do know what sauerkraut is, then you are more acquainted with German food than Korean food. Typically, both are fermented cabbage although Koreans call any fermented vegetable kimchi. For my part, I’m talking about cabbage. Many moons ago (summer of 2014?) I made a batch of kimchi using green cabbage from the garden. It turned out fine but was really sauerkraut with hints of pepper and radish. A couple months ago, I decided to make “real” kimchi and ended up with a rotten pile of mush – I had a failure to ferment. Who just heard the movie quote “what we have here is a failure to communicate” run through their mind? Anyway… back to the Kimchi.

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Vegetables for the ferment: napa and bok choy cabbages, daikon and carrot

Sauerkraut as I know it is shredded green cabbage while kimchi is chopped bok choy and/or napa cabbage. Napa comes from nappa which is a colloquial Japanese term for leaves of a vegetable used for food – not from our grapey California valley.

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Cabbage cut into squares for kimchi as opposed to shredded for sauerkraut

I suspect the difference in cutting styles is tied to the fork vs chopstick utensil preference.

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Daikon and carrots cut into matchsticks

The carrots and daikon are tougher vegetables compared to the leafy cabbage and are meant as accents rather than the main focus, so it is cut up smaller.

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A few scallions get cut into 1″ pieces and added in to the mix. I thought they looked better whole and figured there’s nothing photo worthy about cutting 1″ pieces of a green onion…

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Garlic and ginger in stages

Garlic and ginger provide part of the flavor to kimchi. Neither go into sauerkraut. You can see the top to bottom garlic clove smash-peel-mince sequence Craig taught me. It’s the little things… Ginger is a funny shaped root. Just thought I’d throw that in for posterity.

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Seasoning mix

My sauerkraut gets salt, caraway and juniper. Here you can see the garlic and ginger along with the salt, sugar, and a wee bit of crushed red pepper. The seasoning mix then gets combined with fish sauce. That stuff smells vile. That is all.

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Packing the crock for the ferment

Now for a discussion on method… I have had great success with sauerkraut  when i add cabbage and salt and seasoning to the crock and let it do it’s thing. I usually add a little bit of brine (aka salt water) after a day or two in order to ensure everything stays submerged (I spend very little effort stomping or smashing). My first pseudo-kimchi with shredded green cabbage was made this way and fermented just fine. My most recent attempt at kimchi used a different technique that I read as the traditional method.

Using this traditional method, the cabbage is cut and soaked in brine for a period of time and then rinsed and combined with the rest of the ingredients to coat the leaves with the seasoning for the ferment. The theory is that the cabbage quickly absorbs the salt during the brine soak and everything gets going a bit quicker. Mine didn’t ferment – it rotted. So, either the brine wasn’t strong enough or it didn’t soak long enough. Too much extra work to figure out how to fix it, so I’m sticking with the German technique for this next batch. The cabbage and seasoning got mixed in as I filled the crock. I added a bit of brine to keep everything submerged.

We are on day 8 of the ferment now. I’ll taste it today to see if it is fermenting as expected. If not, you may read about an eccentric that died suddenly from eating some strange rotten food concoction. Wish me luck!

UPDATE 1/16/16

Tasted the kimchi today. MUCH better! A touch too salty for my liking but perfectly edible and great flavor and crunch. A little less salt in the added brine will probably do the trick. I might try the “traditional” salt and rinse method again someday, but for now my “sauerkraut” method works for me. The batch yielded 2 packed quarts.


Duck Finale

I have really taken a liking to old ways of doing things, and they all seem to share a common theme: long processes with a little bit of active work and a lot of waiting for time to do its part. Tonight I grilled dinner while smoking the duck bacon and cooking the confit in the oven. The dogs and I thought the back deck and house smelled heavenly… apparently we were the only ones that thought so. Maybe when Jordan gets back he’ll smell the smoker and come over the help share in the appreciation… If you are reading this, I miss you man!

Anyway… grilled herb pork chops and asparagus kept me well fed for the evening.


The duck bacon smoked for about 2 1/2 hours over pecan wood. If you haven’t used pecan wood or haven’t been to Memphis Barbecue Company, then you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Four skin on breasts magically transformed by salt and smoke into deliciousness…

IMG_3529The confit sat in the oven for 3 1/2 hours at 225°F and was finger picking tender. From the two ducks’ legs and wings, I packed a quart jar of boneless confit.



I’ll let that hang out for a couple weeks to get happy. Then the dilemma will be whether to go: (1) all trendy and have a duck confit salad with some spicy greens, blue cheese, dried fruit and a nice vinaigrette, or (2) all comfort food and have cassoulet and fried potatoes (the french version of Indiana’s ham n beans, fried potatoes and corn bread). Decisions, decisions…

Duck Night

Cerulean used to have a duck bacon appetizer and they’ve had duck bacon as a charcuterie item. Logan absolutely loved the duck bacon and asks about it every time we go to Cerulean. If you are reading this, then you know I’ve been making bacon at home for a few years now. Logan and I have been talking about making duck bacon at home for quite some time as well. For all the years that I’ve lived in Warsaw, I’ve never ventured up to the Maple Leaf Farms Store. Until this month. I went a little crazy… a couple duck down pillows, duck bacon wontons, rendered duck fat, duck bacon, and yes, two all natural ducks. I needed all natural in order to cure them (no commercial solutions or flavorings – just clean and frozen duck). A random Monday night seemed like as good a night as any to play with my newest foodstuffs.


This was similar to cutting up chicken only with thicker skin, more fat and a funny cartilage breast bone thingy… reminded me of a canoe bottom as I was envisioning the little critters floating on a lake before ending up on my cutting board.

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The giblets went to Jack… he likes duck sushi. The other two didn’t care for it. The breasts, legs and wings were for me.

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The breasts will go in a brine tonight to transform into bacon. Curing is to foodies as transubstantiation is to Catholics. Yes, I like bacon that much! The legs and wings got seasoned for confit. A little salt and thyme for the bed… I liked the flare from the track lighting…

IMG_3520 2And then seasoned more on top… with fresh thyme from the garden if you were curious… so worth the fresh herb aroma!

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Tomorrow I’ll smoke the bacon and cook the confit… stay tuned!


Marking Time

We all mark time in our own ways. For me, morels from the yard the first farmers and planting the garden are signs of spring and summer just around the corner. Two weekends ago was the garden and mushrooms. Hoping the new raised beds in a spot with morning sun will do better than the futile attempts at growing on a northwest facing slope.

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This past weekend was my first trip to the farmers market. Lynette’s eggs are a staple and I brought home leeks from Denney Farms and asparagus from Wise Farms. Besides the farmers market finds, I had duck bacon in the freezer from my first visit to the Maple Leaf Farms Stores. {side bar… Why do people typically use ‘farms’ instead of ‘farm’ in their names? Do they really have more than one farm?} I decided on asparagus soup and duck bacon and mushroom risotto.

The asparagus soup used both the Wise Farms asparagus and the Denney Farms leeks. I added in some of the maitake mushroom I found and dried last fall along with a homemade light beef broth. I made garlic chips and saved a few mushroom pieces and asparagus tips for presentation. After it was all said and done, it needed a fair amount of salt and needed more garlic in the soup rather than just the garlic chips. So I salted the left overs and added a bit of garlic powder. And next time I think I’ll use a little less broth and add a bit more cream… Cerulean is a tough act to follow…


The risotto featured the Maple Leaf Farms duck bacon. This duck bacon is a chopped and formed style of bacon. {side bar… stay tuned for a future post on house cured whole breast duck bacon} The Denney Farms leeks started the risotto which was cooked in the same light beef broth I used for the soup. I added chanterelle mushrooms and diced duck bacon for extra flavor. Being a carnivore, there was more bacon than risotto but I kept the plating modest for the photo…


In addition to marking time with edibles, the wildflowers and ferns also help to mark time in the spring.

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Next up… Duck bacon, duck confit and rendering duck fat.


Devil’s Fart

The etymology of pumpernickel has its origin in the Germanic vernacular meaning the devil’s fart. Why is it that farting doesn’t even have to be relevant to the discussion and yet boys always think it’s funny?

Ok, so back to the task at hand… my blog post about my first rye bread, my first pumpernickel and my first marble all in one fell swoop. The backstory is that Logan liked the marbled bread from a restaurant that used to be Kokomo, Whiskey Creek. He asked and I thought I’d try to deliver.

It turns out that “real” pumpernickel is dark brown because it cooks for hours and hours turning  dark brown and developing it’s flavors from the extended cooking time. Nearly all of what we in North America know of as pumpernickel is flavored and colored rye bread. Instead of extended cooking, the flavor and color come from coffee, molasses and cocoa. Who knew?

Rye bread mix of whole grain rye, whole grain wheat and unbleached AP with salt and caraway seeds:


Pumpernickel mix of whole grain rye, diced onion, salt, caraway, cocoa and molasses:

IMG_3176Add sourdough starter & water to the rye and started & coffee to the pumpernickel:


Overnight rise, punch down and rollout for loaf making:


Pumpernickel on the inside and rye on the outside, the dough is rolled, rests to raise, and is scored for baking:


The smell out of the oven was amazing! Here it is on the cooling rack:


And the reveal:


I was pleased to see that the two sheets of dough came together nicely in one loaf. All in all, a great success. Luck favors the bold as they say. Jump in and try something new and you just might succeed. And, if you are curious, it hasn’t made me fart yet. Must be an old wive’s tale of a nickname…


Don’t Like the Super Bowl Teams? Eat Better Food!

Deflate-gate got you down? Don’t like the idea of watching the evil empire play another game with an asterisk next to the W? Yeah, me neither…

Instead of a second dry aged rib roast, I thought I’d switch up to dry aged bone-in rib steaks with my second grass fed rib roast from Yoder’s.

The roast in the UMAi Dry bag after 6 weeks in the downstairs refrigerator…


And out of the bag…


Trimmed and cut into 4 steaks that were almost 2 inches thick…

IMG_3055Seasoned a couple hours before dinner…


Searing on cast iron…

IMG_3057Out of the oven and sizzling in it’s own fat with a bit of butter on top for good measure…

IMG_3061Served with mushroom reduction, peas and potatoes au gratin…


Did I mention that it looked and tasted amazing?


So, if nothing else, I got to eat good food and watch some good commercials. Oh, and there was that brilliant last second goal line call… There’s always next year!





Cooking for Pleasure

Sometimes I just want to cook. For fun. For a long time. All by myself. This is my “me” time.

I had the house to myself for an entire afternoon last month and felt the urge to spend the time getting lost in a labor of love…

Braised sirloin pappardelle with fennel accompanied by caprese and caesar salads

IMG_2974Homemade pasta is one of those simple but time consuming things that too often seems not worth the hassle compared to pasta in a box from the store. If goal is food on the table with minimal interference with the rest of life’s business, then, by all means, grab a box at the store. I use far more dried pasta than fresh. However, if the goal is to enjoy a creative outlet with a bit of good food as the reward, then the fresh stuff wins hands down.

I used mom’s Marcato Atlas pasta maker to roll the dough. It’s old and heavy and perfectly suited to the task… like me! Ha!

I’ve never used fennel before. Seeds, yes, in charcuterie. As a vegetable, no. I used the stalks in place of celery in the mire poix for the braised sirloin. I used the sliced bulbs for the side dish, braised in butter with parmesan.


All the fuss over the homemade pasta and 3 or 4 hours of braising a sirloin couldn’t be dragged down by an ordinary salad, so I made my first ever caesar dressing from scratch. After tasting that dressing, I think everything else should be labeled “imitation caesar” or “caesar flavored” dressing. Yep, it’s that much better.

The caprese stack looked just as nice sliced and ready to eat…


The meal was a fitting and tasty end to a delightful afternoon in the kitchen with the stereo cranked up way to loud and more dirty dishes than the sink and counter could hold.



Charcuterie Continues


Guanciale, salami, kielbasa and schinkenspeck… Not normal English vocab, but oh so delicious!

Guanciale – cured pork jowl with Italian seasonings similar to pancetta…

Kielbasa… Texture in the past has been a bit coarse, so I ran 2/3 of the meat through the food processor before stuffing. I also skipped the smoke this year and baked in the oven at 175 to try something different.

Ground pork…


Seasoned ground pork…IMG_2858

Chopped in the food processor…IMG_2859

Stuffed, baked, chilled and vac sealed in the freezer…IMG_2865Salami… I made 2 flavors again this year: picante and mushroom parm. The picante included Cameroonian pepper from Jordan and the mushroom parm included hen of the woods mushroom from our yard. I used the UmaiDry bags again this year. I thought I’d prick the bags to get rid of the air holes like you are supposed to with natural casings. This completely backfired and the bags did not bond to the surface of the salami. My back up and punt plan was a vinegar wipe followed by a liberal coating of olive oil. Let’s hope that does the trick.


Black Forest Ham…


Salami and Black Forest Ham in the drying chamber after the drybag snafu…


Only a few more weeks to get the salami dry enough to vac seal… cross your fingers that my olive oil trick works out… I really don’t want to lose 20 pounds of salami!?@#$%

That’s it for 2014… Happy New Year to all three or four of you that actually read this in the next 3 1/2 hours!


Christmas Food Fun

Our family tradition for Christmas eve is Italian… dad’s legendary antipasto and my ragu. This year, we added homemade pasta with Spencer’s help. Of course, he thought he was the focus of the photo until he saw my strategic framing 🙂 The antipasto weighed in at 17 pounds this year, a pound off of the 18 pound record.




The picture of the antipasto doesn’t show the 2-inch thick stack of sliced meats and cheeses underneath!

You know your kids have grown up when you make it to 10:30am Christmas morning and trash the kitchen cooking breakfast BEFORE anyone has touched the stocking stuffers!


Last year we fixed fresh prime rib (sorry Craig… oven roasted bone-in rib?) and I fixed a dry aged rib for Superbowl Sunday. Mom was jealous, so I upped the ante this year with a dry-aged grass-fed prime rib. We served schinken spärgel (asparagus wrapped in Black Forest Ham with Manchego cheese) and potatoes au gratin. Incidentally, we looked up the difference between potatoes au gratin and scalloped potatoes. My take is that scalloped potatoes have a cream sauce and potatoes au gratin have a cream sauce with cheese (hence the name, au gratin).

The roast straight out of the dry aging bag…


Trimmed of all the dried bits…


Seasoned and tied up, ready to roast…IMG_2828


Fresh out of the oven…


Side dishes…



And the plate…


A little bit of smoked sea salt flakes and mom’s roll finished things off. I decanted a 2003 Clos Apalta for 2 hours before dinner to top things off.

My quote from that day… “Merry Christmas to my belly!”

Making Butter

I’m using my latest butter making as a test run at posting videos to my blog. I use my KitchenAid with the whisk to get the process started.

After a few minutes of whipping…

Swap the whisk for the paddle…


Continue whipping with the paddle…

Getting thicker…

Getting chunky…

And the magical moment with the cream breaks into butter and butter milk… you can hear the buttermilk sloshing in the bowl…

And we have butter and buttermilk!




I use my bamboo spatulas as butter paddles to wash the butter…

6_washSpeaking of washing the butter… I think it is so cool that you use put water in the butter to get the milk out of the butter… add liquid to remove liquid… butter is magic… that’s why everything is better with butter!

Formed and washed…


And finally… formed and ready to chill in the refrigerator…


Now time to hit publish and see if the videos work… thanks for humoring me with my butter making and video tests.